Life-saving Yemeni group wins 2011 Nansen Refugee Award

EMBARGOED: 08:30 GMT, Tuesday 13 September, 2011

GENEVA, 13 September, 2011 - The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today announced that the winner of this year's Nansen Refugee Award is the Society for Humanitarian Solidarity (SHS) of Yemen. The US$100,000 Award recognizes the 290 staff of SHS, and its founder, Nasser Salim Ali Al-Hamairy, for their "dedicated service to providing life-saving assistance to thousands of refugees and migrants who arrive on the shores of Yemen every year" after crossing the Gulf of Aden by boat.

Desperate to escape violence, drought and poverty in the Horn of Africa, thousands of refugees and migrants put their lives in the hands of human smugglers and cross the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden in crowded and often unseaworthy boats. Some of those who take this perilous journey are beaten or abused, arriving traumatized and ill on the Yemeni coast. SHS staff monitor about a third of Yemen's 2,000 kilometre-long coastline, picking up survivors, providing emergency care and, all too often, burying those who die en route.

Some 60,000 people have made sea crossings to Yemen so far in 2011 - higher than the total for all of 2010. It is estimated that at least 120 people have drowned trying to make the journey.

"Thousands of refugees owe their survival to the people working for the Society for Humanitarian Solidarity," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres about the winner. "Their complete dedication to the service of mankind deserves this global recognition and support."

SHS founder Nasser Salim Ali Al-Hamairy said, "Winning the Nansen Award has given us a big boost. Our work is a humanitarian duty… that has to be done under any circumstance." He added that he would use the Nansen platform to call on the international community to "intensify efforts to improve the situation in Somalia to help dissuade people from attempting the risky crossing."

The Nansen Refugee Award was created in 1954 in honour of Fridtjof Nansen, Norwegian explorer, scientist and the first League of Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. It is given annually to an individual or organization for outstanding work on behalf of refugees. The Award consists of a commemorative medal and a US$100,000 monetary prize donated by the governments of Switzerland and Norway. The winner can donate the money to a cause of his or her choice. The Nansen Award ceremony will take place on 3 October in Geneva.

Photographs and video footage of SHS in action are available for media use.

All media materials are available here: http://www.unhcr.org/nansenaward2011

Note to Editors:

The Nansen Refugee Award Ceremony will take place on Monday, 3 October 2011 in Geneva, Switzerland. Hosted by British former journalist and politician Martin Bell, OBE, this year's laureate will be honoured by performances by Colombian musician and humanitarian Juanes and Norwegian singer Sivert Høyem.

Content from the ceremony is available for TV broadcast. Interested broadcasters should contact Susannah Lovatt, E-mail Lovatt.

The Nansen Refugee Award

Given to individuals or organizations for outstanding service in the cause of refugees.